Thursday, 26 January 2012

Re: The List

Re: The List – New Classes

To be honest, there’s not much to say on this subject anymore since I’m so dang slow that the semester has completely changed and it’s been almost exactly a month since I first made this list…

I will say that some of the kids reacted with outright glee over the changes, rather than being horrified about getting stuck with me. That felt rather nice. I had visions of them fleeing in terror or swearing in Korean at me.

But then the semester wound down, most of the older kids went on holding to prep for their finals, and the whole semester was over. That’s a whole other set of entries—if I ever get around to writing them, lord.

Re: The List – Same Old Same Old

I think this item got added to the list due to my feelings of getting settled in and enjoying myself immensely at the office. Yup. It’s routine but it’s also not. The magic of teaching.

Re: The List – Some students would miss me if I left, some openly despise me

The thing about hagwons is that they tend to be populated by two kinds of kids: those who are hardworking and driven, with a love of learning that makes them an absolute joy to teach… and those who are spoiled brats who are only there because mommy and daddy have forced them to come.

Can you guess which ones like me and which ones would happily watch me die in a fire?

Anyway, there’re a couple of students who have made it clear that they are fond of me, which is kinda awesome. These two girls in particular, I had them for my last class on my first day, and they made me feel welcome instead of like I was utterly hopeless and what the hell was I thinking when I decided to come teach in Korea. On this one night, I was covering for their usual teacher—it was around Boss and Miss K’s wedding, so we switched things up to give the soon-to-be-weds the night off work—and the girls’ faces just lit up when I walked into the room, and they sounded so excited when I said I would be teaching them that night, that I’m pretty sure I was grinning like a buffoon. The one girl has been my pal ever since she came down with this massive giggle fit in the staff office between classes, and she was still in fits during class afterwards. She’d get silent for a minute, and I could see her, just nearly biting through her lip from trying to keep her laughter in, so I’d ask her if she needed a minute, and then she was gone again. It got to the point that ALL of us were nearly hysterical, and I still don’t know what the hell she had found so funny in the first place!

This girl is also the one who told me she would miss me if I left. There was some confusion during a discussion we’d had sometime in November as to how long I was staying in Korea for. She’d gotten October and December mixed up and got all upset when she thought I was leaving in one month instead of eleven, and was delighted when she learned I was sticking around.

Of course now that the semester has changed I don’t have this girl in any of my classes and that makes me sad. And apparently it makes her sad too because she came right up to me and told me as much:
“Why are you not my teacher anymore? For MA* class?”
“I do not know, Laura*—it is a new schedule. Maybe next semester I will be your teacher again.”
“I am sad. I miss you!”
At this point I just about melted and told her I missed her too.

Still, I’m pretty lucky this semester. I’ve got some pretty good groups of kids this time around, which I’ll go into some night when it’s not 130 am and my lungs aren’t trying to forcibly eject themselves out my throat.

…sleep was bordering on opseyo last night. Whee.

*One of the class level codes we use at the school
*also, because Korean names are hard (or we waegukin are inept), the kids also get English names

Friday, 20 January 2012

Re: The List – Shabul Shabul

Since I work at a hagwon (or private Korean academy), my hours of teaching reside primarily in the evening, so exploration of much of the local cuisine has to take place on the weekend or before work starts. Whatever day it falls on, it’s always a tasty tasty adventure! Mom claims I’m gonna need to be rolled home at the end of this year. However, despite constantly eating since landing, just about everything is so healthy that my clothing still fits me just fine! Yaaay!

So. Korean friends and co-teachers, I and S invited T, D, and yours truly to experience some more of this local awesome food one particular day prior to work, at a restaurant known as a Shabul Shabul. Or maybe it’s shabu shabu. The internet says one thing, but as I recall, the sign said another. Because I could read it. For real. Kind of. Anyway. The food was incredible, and the restaurant itself was an experience!

There are a number of restaurants in Korea that require the removal of one’s shoes at the entryway, before sitting down on cushions atop a heated floor. This restaurant was one such place. Also, another fun feature of many Korean restaurants is getting to cook the food yourself right at the table. It’s rather fun.

After we had seated ourselves and the food was ordered, the gas element was switched on and a large metal bowl filled with broth was placed on top of it. While the broth quickly heated up to a boil, we were given platters of frozen beef sliced as thin as bacon, and trays that were loaded with numerous fresh vegetables: cabbage, onion, lettuce, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, and some kind of radish that had the colour of beets. We started putting meat and vegetables into the boiling broth, while smaller trays filled with different kinds of sauces for dipping were brought to us. My favourite was the spiciest one, of course. We were also given stacks of rice paper, bowls of hot water, and a small plate.

This is the part where it got really fun. We dunked a piece of rice paper into the water to soften it, then laid it flat onto the small plate. Using chopsticks, we fished out pieces of the cooked meat and vegetables and put them on the rice paper. After that, we added as much or as little of the raw vegetables as we wanted from the platter, and then carefully rolled the rice paper around the mixture (it was very similar to what I did at the Korean BBQ places, only with rice paper instead of lettuce), and dunked it into one of the sauces. Then we consumed! This process was repeated until the vegetables and meat were greatly depleted!

At that point in time, I was looking at the hot bowl of broth and leftover vegetables and thinking ‘boy, that’s a lot of good food going to waste…’ But I did not know that we were far from done eating!

First, we were given some more broth for the pot, a plate of noodles (they were hot pink and I have no idea why), and a dish filled with more bean sprouts. We flung the noodles, the sprouts, and all of the remnants from the vegetable platter into the pot and let it all simmer for a bit while bowls and a ladle were delivered to our table. We turned down the heat from the grill and started serving out the soup to one another.


I was half-convinced that the hot pink noodles were going to taste like strawberry bubblegum, but they didn’t, which was probably just as well. I’m not sure how that would have mixed in with the beef soup we were happily slurping down. Seriously—when I get back to Canada, we’re paying Korea Town a visit to find one of these places, you and I.

And then, great sadness: there was only a little bit of broth left. Weep and lament—oh wait! They were bringing a bowl of (wait for it, because this is a food item you never see in Korea—I am being so sarcastic) rice! After being here for close to two months when we visited this place, I still think I was entirely too surprised by the rice’s arrival at the table. I mean, I’m Irish. I should understand, right? Potatoes! A meal is not a meal without potatoes! For Koreans, rice!

So here’s what happened with the Korean potatoes (rice). It was added to the leftover broth with an egg mixture, which turned it into a substance that resembled porridge. Beef rice porridge. We scooped a portion onto each of our plates, and then that bowl we were cooking our food in was TOTALLY EMPTY. I was amazed. And full. So very full.

In conclusion, shabul shabul is an awesome way to eat—minus the fact that my legs went numb from sitting cross-legged for so long. Apparently I am old beyond my years. And again, I say it’s lucky all the new food I’m trying here is so healthy or I’d need to buy a second plane ticket home for my stomach.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Re: The List - Getting Invited to a Korean Wedding!

(be warned: LONG. ...that's what she said?)

Mom: “Should you pack some good dress clothes for while you’re over there?”
Me: “Nah, that’ll just take up valuable suitcase real estate. I mean, what are the odds that I’ll get invited to a Korean wedding?”

I swear to Santa, this conversation actually happened.

Because I move slower than the second coming, and I don’t want the details to fade, I will not only speak of the awesome of the wedding invite, but will share details of the wedding itself!

So in case I’ve not mentioned it, soon after arriving I learned that Miss K and Boss were engaged to be wed to one another and the wedding would happen in December. Having only been in their employ for a short time, I was honestly surprised as hell when I was given an invitation! The card was absolutely beautiful—all silver and white and elegant. A keepsake for sure.
…and I have no fucking clue what it says.

Anyway. We got our wonderful coworkers to translate the important details for us (ie: where did we need to be on what day and what time?) and it turned out the location was super-close and we made it there on foot in about 10 minutes.

I… was in a dress. Anyone who has known me for any stretch of time is aware that seeing me in a dress is an occasion for the record books. D had an extra one that miraculously fit me, and my work shoes were dressy enough to wear with it. I don’t even want to begin to contemplate what questing for dress shoes in my size would be like here. I have a hard enough time finding the right pair at home. I had visions of finding a way to temporarily amputate my toes or some such thing. “Dainty” I am not.

Also, the length of this dress bordered on miniskirt length (on my planet, anyway), so I was super-paranoid and constantly tugging it lower. That’s how I roll.

We made it to the spot where we were to meet coworker and friend S before heading off to the wedding itself, and very fortunately for us, coworker and friend H was also given the same location as a meeting spot—S was running late and we had no clue where we were heading, but H did!

The ceremony/reception on the top floor of this place called Nucore, which is like… a department store/movie theatre/collection of restaurants, and this big hall meant specifically for weddings.

So we went and joined the massive crowd for the elevator. And we waited. And we waited some more. Then a bit longer. I will say now that that I don’t care a bit for my elevator experiences here. In the elevator at work, the door sensor is busted (or maybe just opseyo) so if the door is closing, you will lose a limb if you force your way in. Furthermore, it’s S L O W. In the time it takes to arrive from beyond the second floor, I can easily be up the four flights of stairs to work. Other elevators also take an eternity or so to arrive and are often filled to the brim. On those occasions I am often also the recipient of the OMG FOREIGNER stare—which can sometimes be fun, like when I departed the elevator and said farewell in Korean and everyone practically applauded.

…What the hell was I saying again? Right. Elevators suck. Yes. Luckily there is also a healthy abundance of escalators in Pyeongtaek, so H suggested we try them instead. So we bolted up them as quickly as the crowds of shoppers ahead of us would allow (with me cursing out my dress and pantyhose as the soundtrack), and arrived in the nick of time.

Already I could see the wedding differences.

First of all, we received a food ticket which would get us into the feasting hall for the post-ceremony lunch, and then we entered the… chapel, I guess, to observe what looked like a fairly western ceremony. Er, ‘western’ as in hemisphere, not cowboys. The seating was reserved for family, with many of the women wearing traditional Korean dress, so we hung out at the back to watch with a number of our students that had received an invite as well. The lighting kept changing colour, which I found both awesome and odd. I guess I am too used to ceremonies in churches with natural light seeping in from outside. Still, it was very pretty and different.

Boss and Miss K looked fabulous in tux and fancy white dress, saying their words (of which I understood exactly none), but there was no kiss to seal the deal. From what I’ve seen though, Koreans are pretty reserved about PDA. More likely you will see people swatting playfully at each other, and I see more handholding between girls who are close friends than between couples. Ditto for hugs. Sigh. I miss hugs.

Oh my god, I AM Ellen.

So! When the ceremony concluded, there were more photos taken, first with family—wherein I figured out that one of our coworkers is also Boss’ sister—then coworkers got called up for a photo too! And finally there was a photo taken with their students, which I thought was pretty sweet.

I don’t know how much of the ceremony was traditional, and how much of it was Boss and Miss K’s preference, but I liked that we got to be in a photo with them.

There were a few other odd things about the ceremony, in that people just kept kind of ducking in and out, and lunch was already being served in the next room, so there was this constant murmur of voices outside while there was y’know, a wedding happening. There were people dressed in blue jeans and baseball caps, and people were sending texts on their phones… it was almost disconcerting, especially since the wedding was only like 20 minutes. Of course I found out after that there were two ceremonies, just for the bride, the groom, and their parents—so maybe the other was just for show?

There was a moment that was particularly funny, however, that had nothing to do with the ceremony itself. When coworker M entered the ceremony hall, hand-in-hand with his girlfriend, our students started whispering excitedly amongst themselves and taking pictures with their phone cameras—and meanwhile there was a wedding happening.

Also, because I can’t resist a chance to show off my lame lame sense of humour, towards the end of the ceremony everyone started singing a hymn—in Korean—and I leaned over to T and whispered “Dude, I don’t know the words to this hymn!”

I believe I mentioned that lunch followed the ceremony. By ‘lunch’ I mean FEAST. An incredible, glorious, enormous, fantastical, all you can eat FEAST.

I don’t even know the names of pretty much everything that I put onto my plate, but oh my santa, it was all SO GOOD. Noodles, meat, fish, sushi, kimbap, plain rice, fried rice, chicken, sauces, salads, cookies, cakes, fruit, cider, pepsi, soju… more!

Some of our students joined us at our table, and this particular group of kids is fairly advanced in English, so they were talking to us lots, asking many questions, and answered the ones that we asked them as well. Most of my questions to them involved the food being served: “What’s this called?” “How do I eat this?” “Can you pass me the water?” –Some of the stuff, while delicious, was also very spicy.

Eventually the kids took off to go exploring, leaving me, T, D, S, and H to invoke soju o’clock. We might have killed nearly two bottles. Also, even though soju is generally served in shot glasses, it is apparently meant to be sipped. However, T and I decided that knocking the drink back was more fun, especially since it made H and S laugh hysterically. Then H introduced us to this flavoured nectar that you can mix with the soju to give it a new taste. It was kiwi! Er, the fruit. Not New Zealander. Heh.

Now, unlike the Canadian weddings I have attended, the festivities don’t last long into the night. It was 330 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon when we left, after bidding Boss and Miss K (who is no longer Miss K now!) farewell and telling them to enjoy their honeymoon, and admiring the traditional Korean clothes they had worn for the private family ceremony. As one who has been in multiple weddings, where the day commences at the crack of dawn for hair and nails and makeup and pre-ceremony photographs, and finishes almost 24 hours, a massive meal, and a pile of drinks and dancing later, it was a bit strange to be leaving so early in the day—but at the same time, the pantyhose were driving me utterly batshit and I was looking forward to burning removing them. For the rest of the afternoon (which was spent in Songtan in the company of D) I kept randomly saying ‘jeaaaaaans’ and grinning like an idiot.

Thus concludes the wedding adventures—the best that I can recall them anyway. Not because of soju, mind (haha), but because it’s been like two weeks since the wedding and this is the first chance I had to sit down and write about it!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Re: The List Giving my first Detention

This was pure gold. This class (save for 2-3 kids, sometimes 4) has been making me mental since my first day, largely because the subject is difficult and the kids are… active. This one kid in particular, we figure he is wealthy, especially since he has said he’s only there because he has to be, not because he wants to be. In other words, we’re pretty much babysitting this kid so mom and dad can brag that their kid goes to our school. He talks over the lesson, expects something for nothing, doesn’t do his work and looks at you like you’re so far beneath him that you’re not even in the room.

So this one day he mysteriously knew all the answers—and looked rather proud of himself when he informed me that he had ‘copied from teacher’s book’. Then later he kept moving between giving me lip over one thing or another, and talking AGAIN instead of listening, so I growled at him to change seats, and I’m 99% sure the next word that came out of his mouth was ‘bitch’. Even if that wasn’t what he’d said, the tone screamed ‘go die in a fire.’

So I gave him detention. Enough was enough.

Strangely, I thought he’d be worse after, or maybe I just stopped caring if the kid learns anything from me or not. But next class he was surprisingly okay. For him.

The one kid sometimes pays attention, and another I think acts out because he is bored—he always has the correct answers, but is wrong often enough that I don’t think he copied them from the answer key, and the girls are pretty much perfect angels. So, pretty much the boys just mutter quietly in Korean while I teach the girls. And again, the kid who I think is bored occasionally will shout out the correct answer before resuming whatever he was saying to his pals. It’s a lot easier than losing my shit on them, and I at least make sure the boys have the answers written in their books when we take everything up afterwards.

In short, I’m not at all surprised by who got the first detention I gave. Not in the slightest.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Re: The List.

Staffing changes at work.

You’d think with one less teacher on staff that we’d be going batshit insane, but things are actually less stressful. There’s far less tension in the air at work, and by that I mean that there is NONE AT ALL, which is ever so nice.

Also, as a result of these changes, I have picked up three new classes and subjects but they are fairly similar to other classes I have taught before. The downside of this is that the semester is winding down and so most of the textbooks are complete. There is also what is called “holding,” a period of time in which the kids skip attending hagwon so they can devote their energy to studying for their exams.

Energy. As if these kids even have any energy after all the work they do by day at their other schools. Honestly, I feel bad for them a lot of the time, but of course the crazy educational expectations are why I’m even employed right now.

Anyway, we have to prepare as if we are expecting a full class of kids, when in all likelihood there will be none to speak of whatsoever. My one class that normally has 10 kids only had 1 last night, another only 2, and my one class was opseyo.

And, for the frosting, as I am done with many of my subjects, I’ve been covering other subjects to help the other teachers so they will be finished their books by the end of next week.

Needless to say it’s been a party around here. Y’know, I’ve been wondering why I’ve been feeling so fried these last few weeks, but maybe, just maybe, that might have played a part. Plus I somehow went the past week and a half without a drop of coca cola in me. I blame the cider. The delicious delicious cider.